OHSU's biggest gift ever puts dream campus closer
The $40 million windfall kick-starts plans for a South Waterfront medical school complex
Friday, February 09, 2007
JOE ROJAS-BURKE and TED SICKINGER
Oregon Health & Science University's uncertain but ambitious plan to expand its medical school on Portland's South Waterfront got a boost Thursday when the university announced an anonymous $40 million donation -- the largest gift ever received by the state's only medical school.
The gift not only launches the next phase of OHSU's expansion, but it also propels the building boom in the city's biggest new real estate development.
OHSU President Joe Robertson, who announced the award Thursday at an employee gathering, said the money would anchor financing of a medical school building on a 20-acre parcel of riverfront land given to the university by the Schnitzer family in 2004.
"We're now at a point where we can build a building," Robertson said. "This changes the whole landscape."
Robertson said Perkins+Will, a commercial architecture firm, had estimated that OHSU could build the first building of a new interdisciplinary medical school complex on the waterfront for about $50 million. OHSU's medical, dental and nursing schools have outgrown their warren of offices and classrooms on Marquam Hill.
OHSU officials declined to answer questions about the donor's identity or the donor's ties with OHSU. Michael MacRae, spokesman for the OHSU Foundation, said the donor insisted no details be disclosed. He said expanding medical education "was something the donor felt really strongly about, that this was the best way those resources could be used."
Robertson stressed it was still too early to say what the first building would look like, when it would be finished and how its ongoing operation would be financed. The expansion will be subject to extensive public reviews and probably will require the city to undertake major road and utility upgrades for the land.
Shortage of caregivers
Medical school costs are covered largely by student tuition -- now $26,063 a year for Oregon residents and $36,983 for out-of-state students -- and a 7.8 percent tax on the earnings of faculty physicians. Robinson, president since September, has said that tackling the state's looming shortage of health-care workers is a top priority.
Over the next 10 years, state officials estimate, Oregon will need to add 59,000 medical providers -- about 5,900 a year --to fill projected demand for registered nurses, physical therapists, counselors, dentists, doctors and other caregivers.
Employment Department economist Brenda Turner said Oregon will need about 200 additional physicians a year -- nearly twice the number graduating each year from OHSU. Turner said the department can't pinpoint the potential supply of those doctors because it has no good way to project how many doctors are likely to move to the state and how many trained here will practice elsewhere.
Gov. Ted Kulongoski's budget recommends $11.2 million to expand OHSU's capacity to train medical students. With outside funding uncertain, OHSU has turned to collaborations as a way to expand its output of doctors. The medical school has already begun expanding beyond Portland by establishing satellite campuses for medical students in Eugene and Corvallis.
Students at those satellite campuses, however, will need to complete their training on the main campus in Portland, where OHSU's medical school is already full.
OHSU's officials say the Schnitzer campus will depart from the siloed model of the traditional medical school, offering an interdisciplinary environment where medical, nursing, dental, pharmacy and engineering students share research and classroom space and a core curriculum, and collaborate with researchers and physicians on the South Waterfront.
Nearby, OHSU recently opened an outpatient center, linked by tram to its main campus on Marquam Hill.
A $40 million gift is rare in Oregon's philanthropic world. The state has far fewer donors with the liquid wealth to make a cash donation of that size than its neighbors to the north and south.
OHSU has received only two other eight-figure gifts in its 120-year history. In 1987, Tektronix Inc. co-founder Howard Vollum endowed a neuroscience institute with a $14 million gift. In 2004, the Schnitzer land donation was valued at $33.9 million.
Stephen Sanders, president of the OHSU Foundation, said the university wasn't actively soliciting donations for the new campus, or launching a silent phase of a new campaign as institutions often do before formally unveiling their plans. Sanders said the foundation wouldn't even start a feasibility study on the campaign until late this year.
But Sanders said the cash windfall would "accelerate the planning."
OHSU only recently completed its $500 million Oregon Opportunity Campaign. While successful in meeting its overall goals, the campaign struggled to hit funding goals for two new buildings.
OHSU probably will seek some form of taxpayer support for the Schnitzer campus, said Keith Thomson, chairman of OHSU's board of directors. That's far from guaranteed: The university's annual budget appropriation has consistently dwindled since it became a separate, "public" corporation in 1995.
The state already kicked in $200 million in OHSU's last fundraising campaign, paying to construct a research building on Marquam Hill and to recruit nearly 100 scientists and physicians.
The university may not be shy about going back to the well, but it's less clear whether legislators will pour more money into Portland's South Waterfront.
The $40 million gift probably will be awarded to OHSU over a period of years, said MacRae, the OHSU Foundation spokesman. "It remains to be resolved exactly how that would work," he said.
Joe Rojas-Burke: 503-412-7073, email@example.com